Kyoorius Designyatra

Design practice is booming in India, as evidenced by last week’s Kyoorius Designyatra conference, which attracted a glittering array of international speakers to rainy Goa.


Design practice is booming in India, as evidenced by last week’s Kyoorius Designyatra conference, which attracted a glittering array of international speakers to rainy Goa.

The first Kyoorius Designyatra took place last year in response to the rapidly growing design industry in India, and was the first event to offer an opportunity for Indian designers, who are scattered across the country and often working in relative isolation, to meet and exchange ideas and knowledge. As testimony to the success of the first event, and the growing significance of design in India, this year saw twice the number of delegates attend, leading the organisers to construct a temporary structure especially for the festival.

The increased number of delegates (over 1,600, including approximately 400 students), was not the only challenge facing the organisers this year, with extremely heavy rain in the week leading up to the event meaning that only days before it was all due to begin, the venue was knee-deep in water. No sign of such calamity remained by the time everyone arrived, however, and aside from a freak landslide, the only other obstacle left to contend with was how to get the speakers to run to time.

Michael Johnson makes an appearance on the Kyoorius currency. The Kyoorius Designyatra identity, including this money, was designed by Kay H Khoo

At least the line-up of speakers was extremely strong, with many conference regulars in attendance. Wally Olins, David Kester, Michael Johnson, Harry Pearce, Neville Brody, DixonBaxi and Simon Sankarayya all travelled from the UK, giving the event a slightly UK-heavy feel, although the wide variety of perspectives presented stopped this being too much of a problem. Brody was in fact on his second visit to the conference, having attended last year, and also announced his intention to open a branch of Research Studios in Mumbai, inviting applications from the designers present. Talking on behalf of Indian design was Itu Chaudhuri and Sonia Manchanda from Idiom Design.

Sagmeister heads up the 500 Kyoorius note

Stefan Sagmeister, whose presence no conference is complete without, stole the show slightly on the first day, giving a blinding talk where everyone seemed more than happy for him to go over time. He was then rarely seen without an avid fanclub hot on his heels. One of the most inspiring aspects of Sagmeister’s practice for the Indian designers present seemed to be the fact that he works within such a small team (two-and-a-half people, the half being an intern). As design is still a growing career path in India, many designers are limited to working by themselves or in very small teams. DixonBaxi held a similar interest when describing their practice, especially their commitment to working across a multitude of different media, despite being determined to remain a company of only two.

David Kester’s Kyoorius currency appearance

Also receiving rapturous applause was Ogilvy & Mather‘s Piyush Pandey, particularly when he showed a reel of the agency’s recent greatest hits, including the excellent Fevicol campaign. Cary Murnion from Honest then discussed advertising from the US perspective, and Erik Kessels was due to offer a European perspective, but was prevented from flying to the event due to a typo on his ticket.

Kyle Cooper, who had travelled for over 27 hours to be at the event, had the audience in the palm of his hand as he showed a selection of the film title sequences created at his studio Prologue, including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Painted Veil, Seven, Wimbledon and the three Spider-Man films. He also summed up the feelings of many of the speakers present, when he expressed how inspired he had been by the view from the car window while travelling from the airport to the event, where he witnessed India’s advertising imagery first hand. Particularly intriguing were the hand-painted signs used to advertise billboards that are available for hire, a sight also appreciated by Michael Johnson, as recorded on his blog.

An empty advertising billboard, India style. Photo courtesy: Michael Johnson

The response to the speakers wasn’t universally warm, however, with some delegates complaining that at times the tone of the talks was patronising, or even verging on the colonial. On the whole though, there was a palpable excitement to see some design heroes in the flesh, and especially to have the opportunity to engage in one-to-one conversation between the talks.

Kyoorius Designyatra seems destined to grow ever larger in the years to come, with design practice rapidly expanding in India and designers in the rare position of having more work than available designers at present. Despite this positive reaction from businesses, a continual message from designers is that there are still many problems to resolve while the industry grows. Top of this list is the difficulty of receiving a good design education in the country, with few universities offering decent design courses and even less good quality teaching staff available. Many of the larger design practices are therefore forced to train employees to the required level, alongside completing work. And there is still the more fundamental battle of explaining just what design is to many corporations, with designers facing confusion and a lack of understanding when presenting work (and occasionally having to convince not only the client that the work will bring good fortune, but also the company astrologer, which is surely a problem unique to India).

Regardless of these problems, however, the overwhelming atmosphere at the conference was one of great enthusiasm for design and excitement for what lay ahead for design practice in India. The Kyoorius Designyatra organisers had better brace themselves for an even bigger audience next year.

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